September 2016 on the Great Barrier Reef
Pen it in
Captain Trevor Jackson
Of course they were a bit nervous. After hearing about it from every media, scientific and government agency about how ‘bad’ things are with the Great Barrier Reef; how a massive percentage of it was bleached and dying, they couldn’t help but be nervous. Now, finally, they were off to see for themselves the damage and whether their businesses were at risk. In August this year, a small group of Liveaboard Dive operators hired a long range boat and went to see for themselves the state of the most remote reefs in Australia, the rightly named “Far Northerns”.
Stretching from Cooktown to the Torres Straits and 200 miles seaward, the Far Northerns includes famous names like Raine Island, Great Detached and Tijou Reefs. Places they’d been concerned about since the reported bleaching event of early 2016. The questions on their minds…were the reefs still viable? Can we legitimately take people to see them, or is it all over? On board this tiny ship were MBDE Operations Manager Craig Stephen and one of the companies most experienced skippers, Peter Conlon. The aerial surveys of the Far Northerns had been damning, accompanied by much doom and gloom, but we as an industry weren’t quite buying it just yet and there is no substitute for getting up there and getting down amongst it. After a week at sea, the boat returned and on board Spoilsport, the crew and I were waiting with baited breath to find out if we would be once again heading north during the summer calm. Craig and Peter arrived at with beaming smiles as we docked early that Thursday.
“It wasn’t until we got underwater that we could get a true picture of what percentage of reef was bleached,’’ Craig said. “We expected the worst. But it is in tremendous condition, most of it is still pristine and the rest is in full recovery. It really shows the resilience of the reef.’’ On the subject of how the media had portrayed the damage to the reef compared to the reality, he continued “The discrepancy is phenomenal. It is so wrong. Everywhere we went we found healthy reefs. There has been a great disservice to the Great Barrier Reef and tourism and it has not been good for our industry.”
Now it’s all well and good to talk the talk, but were we going to walk the walk? That is, are we going to avoid the Far Northerns, or are they re-entering our scheduling? A week or two later I had any answer. “Trev can you start planning routes from Osprey to Tijou and beyond?” came the phone call. A day or so later I submitted the requested information and got an almost immediate reply. “Would you be happy to take the boat to the Far Northerns next December?” I didn’t say, ‘Yes’ …I didn’t say ‘Maybe’…I just said….”Pen it in Craig, pen it in!”